On November 6, 2018, voters all across the United States got to vote in midterm elections. Massachusetts, one of the bluest states in the country, had three controversial ballot questions. Two out of three questions received a YES vote, including Question 3. Question 3 passing upholds Senate Bill 2407, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations.

Public Accommodation in Hospitals

The ballot question described public accommodation as places like hotels, restaurants, retail stores and even bathrooms. But what about hospitals?

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are establishments that provide care to the general public and must prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Hospitals contain locker rooms, changing rooms, bathrooms, as well as patient rooms.

Boston Children’s Hospital Study

During a study at Boston Children’s Hospital, Elizabeth Boskey, PhD and her team conducted a study examining areas of concern among staff. From her findings, primary concerns were related to patient roommate assignments. Staff mainly feared that heterosexual, cisgender men may present as a transgender woman to prey on women in sex-segregated spaces. They also feared the outcome of transphobic conflicts between patients. Surprisingly, most of the “gender panic” was raised from support staff, rather than clinicians.

Boskey assured her staff that there is a complete lack of evidence suggesting cisgender men pretending to be transgender as a ploy. She was shocked her staff weren’t as concerned for transgender women, as there is documented elevated risk of assault, stigma and discrimination faced by transgender women. Boskey also assured her staff, as well all clinicians and support staff, they already have the skills to handle conflicts that may arise from “transphobic” patients. She explained they should compare these conflicts to religious or racial discrimination. “Most people don’t wear their gender identity on their sleeve, and if patients are seeing each other’s genitals, something else has probably gone wrong with care,” says Boskey.

Boskey and her team concluded their study by supporting question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot. Those who supported the Bill gave patients and their families access to public accommodations, and in turn, access to better care.